Carbon neutral: The Scottish coffee roasters on a quest to cut emissions

Ben James
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October 25, 2021
glen lyon coffee roasters

Coffee businesses have felt pressured to reduce their carbon footprints for years.

It’s been a priority not only due to increasing environmental concerns among consumers, but also due to fears over the long-term future of coffee. Studies suggest that, at the current rate of climate change, about half the land used for growing high-quality coffee will be unproductive by 2050.

However, becoming carbon neutral – a state in which carbon emissions are exactly balanced out by carbon removal – presents a significant challenge. This isn’t helped by difficulties in accurately measuring emissions across the supply chain.

One roastery that’s taken significant steps to overcoming these challenges in its goal to become carbon neutral is Glen Lyon Coffee Roasters.

Founded in 2011 by Jamie Grant and his wife, Fiona, Glen Lyon is an eleven-person operation based in Aberfeldy in the Scottish Highlands. They supply coffee to more than 60 cafés around the country, while also selling both online and at their physical shop.

A few years ago, they decided to start measuring their carbon emissions and adopt as many means as they could to reduce them.

“It stems from my background,” Jamie explains. “Prior to coffee, I worked in the environment sector and I’ve always been very passionate about climate change and working out how, through the business, we can make changes to our footprint.”

Although the roasting stage is estimated to contribute as little as 6% of a coffee’s total carbon emissions, it is also one of the easiest stages of the supply chain to calculate the footprint – and, therefore, take genuine steps to reduce it.

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carbon neutral coffee roasters
Planting trees to offset their carbon is just one of the ways Glen Lyon is working towards carbon neutrality

Glen Lyon’s approach

The Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol – an organisation that provides standards, guidance, and training for businesses to manage their climate-warming impact – categorises carbon emissions into three scopes: 1, 2, and 3.

In short, these scopes indicate who “owns” those emissions and the level of control applicable to changing those emission levels at each stage.

Jamie tells me that while Glen Lyon isn’t certified carbon neutral, they’re confident that their carbon emissions for scopes 1 and 2 (i.e. direct emissions from the roastery and indirect via electricity, steam, heating etc) are net zero.

“We’ve been unable to quantify our emissions from source,” he says. “We’ve tried to estimate the carbon cost, but we really need academic support to set up some kind of software where you can punch in where the coffee is from and it tells you the carbon cost.

“However, every year we do our own carbon footprint evaluation of the roastery. In 2020, it was around 30 metric tonnes of carbon, which takes into account electricity, and propane gas for the burners.”

“We planted around 155 grey willows, which offset about 30 metric tonnes of carbon over their 40 years of life.”

To reduce these emissions, Glen Lyon has taken measures such as insulating their new premises, investing in energy-efficient equipment, and using an electric Nissan Leaf car for all local deliveries.

Additionally, they use wood-burning stoves for their heating, while they plan to install solar panels on the roastery’s roof by the end of the year.

But it’s not just about reducing their carbon footprint – to offset emissions, they also work closely with Trees For Life, a conservation charity dedicated to revitalising forests in the Scottish Highlands.

“The team goes up there and we physically plant the trees,” Jamie explains. “Last time we planted around 155 grey willows, which offset about 30 metric tonnes of carbon over their 40 years of life. It also takes into account roughly 10% room for failure, because not every tree you plant will offset that carbon.”

However, unless Glen Lyon were to cease all operations, they couldn’t just leave it at that; each year, they will need to plant more trees to continue offsetting their emissions. Due to a business expansion, Jamie predicts that this year they’ll plant around 250 trees.

“We’re growing quite fast,” he says. “So we’re trying to track that growth and increase the trees to balance that up. The nice thing is that Trees For Life have set up a grove for us, which means we can track their progression over time.”

glen lyon carbon neutral coffee roasters
Despite various barriers, Jamie and the team have been able to cut their carbon emissions significantly

Net zero: How important is it for coffee businesses?

Of all the industries threatened by climate change, the specialty coffee sector stands to be one of the worst affected.

Arabica cultivars are already experiencing higher incidence of disease outbreaks, such as coffee leaf rust, while rising temperatures are expected to increase the prevalence and severity of extreme weather conditions, including floods and droughts.

This is pushing arabica production, which thrives in a temperature range of 15°C to 24°C with 1,500 to 2,000mm of annual rainfall, into higher regions with worrying intensity.

Jamie tells me that, as a result, the need to take action at every level of the supply chain has now become impossible to ignore.

“It’s absolutely essential,” he says. “There have obviously been a lot of issues in the coffee industry around fair trade and social responsibility; but I think the environmental side is just as important, if not more important.”

With COP26 taking place in Glasgow this November, the spotlight has begun to fall more heavily than ever on the biggest carbon emitters, many of whom belong to the coffee industry.

jamie grant carbon neutral car
Jamie with the Nissan Leaf used for local deliveries

However, ambitious targets, such as “net zero by 2030” or “carbon negative by 2050” no longer seem to quash calls for change like they once did – these businesses, alongside smaller ones like Glen Lyon, now need to take genuine measures to lower their emissions.

But how can they do this effectively?

“You don’t have to go for these huge commitments that you’re not necessarily going to reach,” Jamie explains. “If you can demonstrate that you’re making real practical change, year on year, then that’s going in the right direction.”

On a wider scale, an affordable certification programme for smaller businesses and a way of accurately measuring carbon emissions between origin and the roastery are key to reducing the carbon footprint of coffee, he says.

“Green coffee is the hardest to evaluate because there are so many variables involved. We work with a carbon neutral farm in Costa Rica that went through a very lengthy process to get themselves certified.

“But they also worked out that production wasn’t necessarily the problem. Rather, it was when the coffee went from port to port where the issues arose. That’s the section we’re missing.”

Despite the various challenges involved in becoming carbon neutral, Jamie remains positive about where the coffee industry is going.

Companies are increasingly realising the economic benefits of becoming environmentally friendly, which is helping to encourage more to join the cause. And, as a whole, he believes everyone is moving in the right direction.

“We’ve come up against barriers, but we’ve just gone ahead and done things ourselves. You just have to remember that every step is taking you on that journey to becoming carbon neutral.”

Glen Lyon uses compostable coffee bags to help reduce waste

Glen Lyon Coffee Roasters uses compostable coffee packaging as part of their plan to reduce waste and limit their environmental impact.

At MTPak Coffee, we can help you design the perfect compostable packaging for your coffee, from concept all the way through to completion.

Our PLA and kraft paper coffee bags are compostable within 90 days in a commercial composting facility, while our BPA-free degassing valves are recyclable.

For information on our compostable coffee bags, contact our team.

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Carbon neutral: The Scottish coffee roasters on a quest to cut emissions

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